10 Things you need to know about building muscle


If you're a man and i'm guessing you are if you're reading this, it's unlikely that you looked in the mirror recently and thought, damn! I'm too muscular.

As men, it's in our nature to want to look bigger and feel stronger, but with so much misleading and false information online, in magazines and from so-called health and fitness professionals, knowing what to believe and where to start can feel overwhelming.

Thankfully it needn't be as complicated as you might think. Here are 10 things you need to know about building muscle:

1. You need to consume enough protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient and the building block for muscle growth. Without an adequate and continuous supply of protein, your body will not only struggle to build new muscle, but also to recover from workouts and maintain your current muscle mass – something that becomes increasingly important as you age.

For optimal muscle growth, aim for 2g of protein per kilo of body weight daily.

Related: Protein - How much do you really need?

2. You need to consume enough carbs


While protein gets all the glory, without carbs, you can't build muscle.

Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of fuel and if you neglect to consume enough, not only might you struggle to find the energy to power you through a tough workout, your body may break down muscle as it compensates for a lack of its primary energy source.

Depending on your training frequency and calorie requirements, as a rough guide, aim for between 2 - 5g carbs per kilo of body weight daily.

3. You can't build muscle and lose weight at the same time

Sorry guys. Unless you're training under the watchful eye of a team of scientists, and I'm pretty sure you're not, it's just not realistic! Building muscle requires an excess of calories, whereas weight loss requires a calorie deficit. They're directly conflicting goals! It's really that simple.

If your goal is to maximise muscle growth, forget weight loss for now and focus on making big gains by training hard and consuming enough calories.

For muscle growth with minimal fat gain, aim for a daily calorie excess of 500+ calories.

4. Post workout nutrition is the most important meal on the day for muscle growth


As a personal trainer, I find that I constantly have to nag my clients to take their post-workout nutrition more seriously. Personally, if I don't have access to good post workout nutrition, I'll not workout until I do (seriously).

Following a tough workout, your muscles are sore, damaged and depleted of glycogen (Your body's storage form of carbohydrates ). Your body craves replenishment so that it can begin the recovery process - one in which the body heals damaged muscle fibers allowing them to grow back bigger and stronger. This process can only take place with the right post-workout nutrition.

For optimal recovery and best results, aim for a ratio of 2:1 carbs to protein immediately following a workout.

Related: Post workout nutrition for big results

5. Muscle growth requires muscle damage

It sounds counterintuitive but actually, your muscles grow when the muscle fibres are damaged. In order for this to happen, you need to repetitively push your muscles to absolute failure. This is when you reach the point (preferably between 8-12 reps) where you can no longer complete a repetition with good form. 

6. Compound exercises build more muscle than isolation exercises


If the first exercise you do when you enter the gym is bicep curls, you've got the wrong idea. While isolation exercises can and should be used during workouts, they by no means should be your priority. To really fire up your muscle building potential, focus your workouts around exercises that use the biggest muscle groups and the most amount of muscles at the same time. Think squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, pull ups, bench press and hip thrusts.

7. Routine can be the enemy

Routine and consistency are very different things when it comes to working out and building muscle. While too little of the same thing won't yield significant results, too much repetition can have equally disappointing results. Your body responds and reacts to being challenged, not when faced with long-term monotony.

If you've been repeating the same workouts for 12 weeks or more, it's time to change things up. Mix up the order, change the rep ranges, rest times, muscle group combinations, try different exercises etc.

By experimenting with different training variables every 8 – 12 weeks, you'll keep your body guessing which will pay dividend to your results.

Related: 5 training methods to take your fitness to the next level

8. Muscles grow when resting


While it may seem counterproductive to take (active) rest days, it's actually when your muscles grow. Remember that each and every-time you push hard during a workout, your muscles get damaged. If you don't allow them adequate time to recover and grow back stronger, it could be detrimental to your results and wellbeing.

At the very least, allow 48 hours recovery between same muscle group workouts. If you're pushing to absolute muscle failure during your weight training workouts, which i'm sure you are, you're going to need it!

Note: While full rest days (doing nothing at all) can be beneficial, active rest days (those that involve some light recuperative exercise) are best as they encourage blood flow with helps aid recovery. Think light cycling, walking, yoga, stretching or foam rolling.

Related: How to speed up your recovery after you workout

9. Muscles grow when you sleep

On the topic of rest, it's important to get enough sleep (Ideally 8 hours a night).

As we sleep, energy consumption is much less, allowing us to utilise the nutrients we consumed during the day to more effectively recover, build muscle and to recharge the brain (fundamental for motivation and focus).

10. Eat adequately and often


When in doubt, eat adequately and often. While some might suggest intermittent fasting or 3 big meals a day are better, when your goal is muscle growth, don't risk it! By eating regularly, you guarantee your body has enough high quality calories (especially carbs and protein) readily available to help aid recover, maintain energy levels and encourage muscle building.